Dominique Archie went through this last year, which was supposed to be the transition. This year was going to be different, with two key transfers and a couple of impact freshmen.
But with three games remaining in the regular season, the tale remains the same for USC. The Gamecocks go to Auburn today with records of 12-15 overall and 4-9 in the SEC; last year at this point the Gamecocks were 13-13 and 3-10.
"Yeah, I was thinking about that the other day," Archie said. "This year wasn't supposed to be like this. It was supposed to be a big turnaround from last year. But I guess it ain't all about the talent on the team. It's about how you prepare together."
Archie, a sophomore who started every game the past two seasons, spoke after Wednesday's home loss to LSU. With no postseason in sight and coach Dave Odom gone at the end of the season, the loss signaled to many that South Carolina is heading aimlessly down the stretch.
When this season began, the Gamecocks were talking NCAA tournament but considered the NIT a strong likelihood. But now they're a longshot even for the third-tier College Basketball Invitational, which will take 16 teams.
Rick Giles, whose promotional group runs the CBI, said the new tournament conceivably could take a team with a losing record, but USC would need to show it could beat some good teams.
"They've still got Kentucky and Tennessee on their schedule," Giles said. "If they win one or both of those games, then we look at them in a much better light. If they lose both of them, then we look at them in a pretty similar light to now."
Short of gaining an automatic berth by winning the SEC tournament, the Gamecocks are left with three more games in which motivation might be hard to scare up.
Asked what they still have to play for, Archie and star guard Devan Downey both said they're "playing for the university."
"When coach Odom leaves, USC is still gonna be here," Archie said. "And we want our school to still have a good name, just like North Carolina wants their school to have a good name."
Downey also invoked the names of Tré Kelley and Brandon Wallace, last year's two star seniors. Despite losing those "two great players," Downey added he had higher hopes for this team, to at least be "in the mix" in the SEC.
"We came in with so many hopes, but it just didn't pan out like we wanted," Downey said. "We were depending on some people to do certain things, they didn't do it. Other people didn't do things they were supposed to do. It's no finger-pointing, it's just the whole project didn't pan out the way we wanted."
Since Odom is retiring at the end of the season, the worry is players will begin to tune him out, more concerned with individual accomplishments and who their next coach will be. But Odom was adamant that hasn't happened, other than maybe the last six seconds of a few games.
"If I thought they'd gone to sleep, I'd wake them up, but they haven't done that, they practice hard, they play hard," Odom said. "But you get these moments where their minds freeze, their bodies freeze, their eyes get bigger looking like a deer looking in the headlight and you have those problems. But yes, they listen, sure they do."
SOUTH CAROLINA GAMEDAY
SOUTH CAROLINA (12-15, 4-9 SEC) AT AUBURN (14-12, 4-9)
• When: 6 p.m.
• Where: Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum, Auburn, Ala.
• TV: None
• On the Web: Live Gametracker stats at uscsports.com
• Tickets: Available at the box office
• South Carolina's probable starters: G Devan Downey 5-9 So. (19.2 ppg, 3.1 apg); G Zam Fredrick 6-0 Jr. (15.0 ppg, 3.1 rpg); G Dwayne Day 6-6 Sr. (5.4 ppg, 4.0 rpg); F Dominique Archie 6-7 So. (10.7 ppg, 5.7 rpg); F Evka Baniulis 6-7 So. (5.3 ppg, 2.1 rpg)
• Auburn's probable starters: G Quantez Robertson 6-3 Jr. (7.6 ppg, 5.2 rpg); G Rasheem Barrett 6-5 Jr. (13.5 ppg, 4.2 rpg); G Frank Tolbert 6-4 Sr. (12.9 ppg, 5.2 rpg); F Quan Prowell 6-8 Sr. (15.8 ppg, 6.1 rpg); F Lucas Hargrove 6-6 So. (7.8 ppg, 4.3 rpg)
• Notes: The Gamecocks have lost three straight to clinch a losing SEC season and are tied with four other teams for next-to-last in the league. ... Fredrick responded from his first benching of the season against LSU by scoring 21 points. ... Downey only had six points against LSU, dropping him to second place in the SEC scoring charts. ... Auburn is full of local connections. Prowell transferred from Furman, Hargrove is a Pontiac native who played at Richland Northeast High School and coach Jeff Lebo is a former USC assistant. ... The Gamecocks have lost seven of their games by three points or fewer. ... USC only hit 4-of-22 3-pointers against LSU.
• Up next: USC hosts Kentucky at 7 p.m. on Wednesday.